Weeding – a.k.a. Recycling, Withdrawing, De-selecting

One of the challenges of being a small library is that we cannot collect or keep everything.  We don’t have the space to keep things “for historical purposes.”  We would like to keep acquiring materials, and this means that we have to find space somewhere.  This means weeding materials from our collection (aka, recycling books and journals).

Outside factors can make these space pressures more acute – in the summer, our library will be kicked out of one of our on-campus storage locations (the building will eventually be demolished).  We will be simply moving some of the materials to another location, but other materials will be withdrawn from the collection to make room.

I have been working on several projects to make this possible.

First, I have been looking at our print indexes to see what can be withdrawn.  Sometimes this is an easy decision: We can withdraw the print versions of Chemical Abstracts and the Bibliography of North American Geology because we have subscriptions to their electronic versions, and those subscriptions won’t be going away any time soon.  I know that some librarians will say “but those print indexes are valuable learning and research tools – it’s easier to use the electronic version when you know how to use the print.”  To be honest, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement, especially since the electronic tools offer so many more options for finding information.  In any case, we simply can’t afford to hang on to them.

The next items to go are low use print journal volumes that we have stable electronic access to.  This is a bit more complicated, because what does “stable” access mean?  Publishers who have made certain journal volumes open access now could always take away that access in the future.  What happens when we can no longer subscribe to online access for a journal?  These decisions were made on a individual basis.

At the same time I am looking at our collection of USGS documents with our government documents librarian.  Our collection is a bit odd.  Much of it was never entered into our OPAC, so we don’t have a complete sense of what we have.  Much of it is now available online, but access is a bit dodgy for students used to clicking on the open url resolver button in GeoRef (which doesn’t work as we’d like for these documents).  I’ll be meeting with our geology faculty in the next couple of weeks to develop a plan for these documents – I suspect we will withdraw items that are available online.

Recycling books is never pretty. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Blevis

And finally we have a large collection of books in the storage location that is being closed.  These books were moved out of our main library 5 years ago, based on their previous usage.  At the time, these books hadn’t been used (checked out or taken off the shelf) in 10 years.  Students could still check them out by requesting them from storage.  If they were requested they were put back in our main library.  So right now, the books in storage haven’t been used in 15 years.  Most of them will be withdrawn.  I plan to have a quick look through them, however, since they were moved before I arrived here.

Of course, one of the trickiest parts of this is communicating this with the faculty.  The most visible part of all this is the big recycling dumpster into which all of these volumes are thrown.  It isn’t pretty.  And you don’t want that dumpster to be the first clue to faculty about what is going on.  So I have been trying to communicate with faculty about what we are doing.  Sometimes I am asking for advice, sometimes I am simply informing them of our decisions.  And I haven’t always done this in the best way possible.  For example, I didn’t give the faculty a lot of notice about the Spring Break withdrawal of indexes.  At this point the only thing I can do is make a plan to communicate with faculty about the next phases.

So I will send emails and request face-to-face meetings with our department representatives over the next couple of months in an effort to be open with the faculty about our decisions.  Hopefully they will still see me as an advocate for science resources in the library.


Faculty Outreach


Originally uploaded by Aidan Jones

Apparently, our day-long meeting last Tuesday started out as a collection development retreat.  Somewhere in the planning, our collection development librarian realized that we needed to take a step back and talk about how we communicate with faculty in general.  The topic is related to collection development through the library liaison program (or lack there of).

And so, as a result, almost all of the librarians at my library gathered off campus for a full day of discussion about what we are currently doing to reach out to faculty, what we wish we were doing, and what will be possible for us to do in the future.

I am one of the few librarians at my library with a very firm group of “constituents” – the science departments.  We have never had the staff to develop a complete library liaison program and have concentrated our energies on information literacy instruction, rather than hiring subject-specific bibliographers.

In our day-long retreat about faculty outreach, we were able to identify areas where we have been successful at reaching out to faculty (instruction), areas that we need some improvement in (collection development), and areas that we haven’t even dipped our toes in yet (scholarly communication).

After a lot of discussion, we were able to come up with a few goals for faculty outreach for the library as a whole:

  • Organize a faculty luncheon for department chairs, faculty reps, and other interested parties to discuss library issues (especially resources).
  • Improve and update our social networking presence.

We also decided to set a few goals for ourselves.  I wanted to set myself a few modest, concrete goals that I could check off (or not) at the end of the year.

  1. Contact each of my departments about visiting a department meeting for 10 minutes to discuss library resources and services
  2. Meet with Chemistry faculty to talk about changes to our chemistry information literacy program.
  3. Advertise our science-related library workshops to the science faculty

This is in addition to my normal reference, instruction and web design duties.  Perhaps I will write another post at the end of the year to see if I was able to meet my modest faculty outreach goals.

Why we need to ‘deselect’ items from our collections

Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, 1838-1906
Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, 1838-1906

Weeding a library collection is never a popular topic on college campuses.  Libraries are sometimes quite open about their weeding policies, and sometimes they just hope no one notices.

Faculty sometimes protest and libraries sometimes have to defend their decisions.

Just the other day, I came across a perfect example of why we need to weed our collections:  In the reference collection our library had a copy of a spiral bound users guide to Beilstein, the source of a wide variety of organic chemistry information.  From 1966.

First, the guide is to the print version of Beilstein, which doesn’t exist anymore (as far as I can tell).  Second, we don’t have access to the electronic version of Beilstein.

While this guide might be useful to historians of chemical information services one day, as an undergraduate institution with a constant need for more space in the library, we simply cannot justify hanging onto it.

Collection Development for Beginners

That would be me – a collection development beginner.

This year I have taken on some collection development responsibilities in astronomy & physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology and math.  It’s a little daunting.

As a public undergraduate institution, we can’t buy everything, so it is important to choose wisely.

So many books, so little time
So many books, so little time

The prospect of building a good collection in areas I am not familiar with is a little scary.  Luckily for me, the faculty make most of the selections at my institution, giving me a bit of flexibility and time to learn.

I am currently developing some strategies to help me with this new responsibility.

  1. I am talking to faculty.  What kinds of projects are they asking students to do?  What kinds of materials do they find acceptable for assignments?  What kind of undergraduate research are they doing?
  2. I am working with our collection development librarian to analyze what we already have in our collection.  Apparently, we have about 100 books on FORTRAN, most from the early to mid 1980’s.  We only have about 10 on PHP.
  3. I am seeking the advice of experts.  I am seeking out book reviews in science and technology journals, and looking for high quality books that meet the needs of our curriculum.  This works best when publishers provide an RSS feed of articles that allows me to filter out the book reviews.  Using Yahoo! Pipes, I can create a single RSS feed for book reviews from scientific journals.  This is very much a work in progress.

I am hopeful that these strategies will allow me to build a collection that will be useful to our students and faculty, with up-to-date authoritative books on subjects our users care about.

We’ll see.